Storyteller extraordinaire Timm Holmes draws inspiration from own sonsWhen you get the itch to do something, you just have to do it. Storyteller Timm Holmes realized he wanted to write stories in Grade One. “When I won a storytelling contest in Grade One, enthusiastically reciting Robert Munsch’s Mortimer, I knew I’d found what I needed to do in life,” says Holmes. By the time he was eight or nine, he was writing his own stories and as he grew older, he began to write for teenagers and adults. Now, his sons inspire his madcap stories.
The entire Holmes family are devoted readers. “My wife is a librarian,” says Holmes, “so she is surrounded by books every day. And our adopted sons, Cooper and Malcolm, loved reading from an early age. We read stories every night.” Holmes says that part of his inspiration came from getting bored with the same stories every night. “I’m sure that’s something that every parent goes through,” says Holmes, “the same tried and true favourite all the time. But our sons are now seven and nine, so we started making up our own stories.” The boys helped create Peanut Butter & Dragon by choosing a beginning and an ending. “We had quite the discussion over what a dragon should eat,” laughs Holmes. “Malcolm said that dragons would eat sheep, Cooper suggested the dragon eat his brother. They finally decided that the dragon should eat peanut butter.” By the time they’d made up three or four stories, Holmes’s wife, Jennifer, said they should do something with their stories.
Publishing seemed to be the next logical step. But Holmes knew he’d need illustrations. So, he used photography and Photoshopped images of his sons and environments. Then he layered them on top of one another, applying several filters to make it look like a cartoon and he had the visuals for the books. “Cooper and Malcolm were thrilled to be in their own books,” says Holmes. “The images are blurred enough that they’re not recognizable, but they know it’s them.” Peanut Butter & Dragon became a hit in 2017 and Holmes started speaking in front of classes from kindergarten to Grade Six talking about stories. Based on her experience watching him engage her kindergarten class, one teacher suggested that Holmes create a workshop on writing. In collaboration with the teacher, Holmes created a pilot for workshops and presented it to her class. Now Holmes also does inspirational storytelling assemblies in front of many kids. “I do the reading visits and assemblies for free,” says Holmes, “I think it’s important to get a message out to kids that reading, writing and storytelling can be fun and accessible. It also allows me to embrace my inner child, be goofy and have fun.”
Having fun and being goofy also paid off in a pilot for a 30-minute children’s television show produced by Rogers TV Cable 22. “I did an interview on Rogers Daytime about the Start A Story Workshop and thought why couldn’t this be a show?” When Holmes pitched Rogers TV producers the idea, they liked it and together they created the pilot. Holmes really enjoyed the experience and so did the kids, even though it meant they had to be at school on a Saturday for filming. He’s now in the process of preparing a pitch for CBC Kids and TVO Kids. Through exposure on Twitter, Holmes was approached by a school in Coquille, Oregon. “I was kind of blown away when they reached out,” says Holmes. “This is a tiny town of just over 3,000 people and they are desperate for books in their school, so we sent 75 donated books – Cooper and Malcolm added some of theirs as well.” Holmes was touched by the video they received back. “Here was footage of these kids enjoying the books. Cooper and Malcolm were thrilled that there were other kids reading books they’d enjoyed. It was really overwhelming.” Holmes is being flown out to Coquille in the fall for a weeklong stay which will include a family night and seven performances of the Start A Story Workshop.
Coming up this July and August is the TD Summer Reading Club put on by the Ottawa Public Library. Holmes will be involved in seven weeks of events performing several of his Start A Story workshops.
“I’ll be at various locations across Ottawa,” says Holmes, “and the best thing is that it’s free for kids to attend.” Holmes will supply the joy and craziness and show kids they can write about anything. Find out more about Timm Holmes, Start a Story and his books at timmholmes.com. Check out the Ottawa Public Library website at biblioottawalibrary.ca for workshop dates and locations.